Thursday, March 08, 2018

this weekend's project: summoning seitan

One of the common ingredients in the making of seitan is chickpea flour. Despairing of finding such flour anywhere near me, I had purchased a bag of dried chickpeas from iHerb with the intention of milling my own flour, but the moment I tried grinding those little fuckers in my food processor, the noise was horrifically loud. I might as well have been grinding glass marbles. And after milling away at those chickpeas for a full minute, I saw that there was precious little fine powder: most of the vegetable matter was still in large, broken chunks. I decided then and there that making my own chickpea flour was a lost cause.* When I searched on iHerb for "chickpea flour," I didn't find any, so I went to the GMarket website and—surprise, surprise—GMarket had it. (I saw later that iHerb sells "garbanzo-bean-and-fava flour," which isn't quite what I wanted.)

That flour arrived today, and I now have all the ingredients I need to make a batch of seitan.** I'll be Frankensteining a slab of ersatz meat this weekend. From what I've seen online, there are two schools of thought on how to prep one's seitan: you can simmer it, or you can bake it. (And if you're making gyros as I am, you can then pan-fry it.) I'm probably going to try the simmer method first, but there's an awesome video of a vegan dude making seitan ribs by using the bake method, so I'll definitely have to try that next.

I'm not turning vegan or anything; I've simply been curious about this particular meat substitute for a while, now, and when I make gyros for the office later this month, one of the things I'm going to do is tell my coworkers that "I've got two kinds of lamb for you" without elaborating. They'll probably figure out that one kind of "lamb" is meatless, but I still want to see how they react to it. (I wonder whether I should check for gluten intolerance among my coworkers first.) Think of it as a kind of psych experiment.

So: we summon seitan this weekend. There will be pics.

*For those who might be wondering: I did try to pound the food-processed chickpea chunks into fine powder with my mortar and pestle, but this too was a noisy process, and the chickpeas proved to be so hard that, if I had wanted to grind/pound them with the necessary force, I would have had to move outside to do it because the noise would have been intolerable to my neighbors.

**Seitan also goes by the cute nickname of "wheat meat," given that it's mostly made of vital wheat gluten. You can actually make your own vital wheat gluten from regular flour: take several cups of flour and add enough water to make dough. Knead the dough until it's coherent-looking, and the gluten in the dough has begun to produce a bit of elasticity. Put the dough in a large bowl and add enough water to cover the dough ball. Knead. Periodically dump out the cloudy water and add more, but never stop kneading. Keep dumping and adding water, all while kneading, until the water is clear. At this point, what you've done is to wash away all the starch, and the rubbery, much-reduced mass you're left with is the vital wheat gluten. Some seitan recipes use little more than this gluten, but most recipes call for the addition of certain ingredients to add flavor and body to the seitan. Nutritional yeast powder adds a bit of funk and cheesiness to the wheat meat; chickpea flour adds body and texture, making the seitan more organic and less rubbery; soy sauce (or its variant, tamari) and miso paste add crucial umami; mushroom powder adds some earthiness as well as a bit of organic unevenness to the texture; tomato paste (or in my case, tomato powder) adds necessary coloring and flavor that nudge the seitan toward a more realistic-looking meatiness; various herbs, spices, seasonings, and aromatics (dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil, powdered garlic, powdered onion, salt, pepper, etc.) help round out the flavor, turning a flavorless lump of glutinous protein into something approaching meat. For my gyro "lamb," I'll be adding my Middle Eastern spice blend, which includes cumin, paprika, cayenne, and turmeric.


Charles said...

If you're going to be feeding them gyros, won't the gluten be obvious because of the bread? I imagine that anyone OK with eating the flatbread would be OK with seitan.

Kevin Kim said...

Good point, although one wonders whether eating bread versus eating pure gluten might be an issue. Meh... maybe not: if you're gluten-intolerant, you're already avoiding bread, and since I've already announced my office "food calendar" through August, someone would have mentioned, by now, an inability to eat bread.

Are there degrees of gluten intolerance? I should look that up.

Charles said...

If you're talking about Celiac disease, then no, there are not degrees of intolerance. It would be very bad for someone with Celiac disease to have any gluten at all. I know a girl with Celiac who reacted to the gluten in soy sauce (because some types of soy sauce are made with wheat flour).

If we're talking about gluten sensitivity, though... well, the jury is still out on that. I've seen what appear to be reputable sources on both sides of the issue. My gut reaction (metaphorically, that is) to the idea of gluten sensitivity is that it is a load of malarkey. At the same time, though, I am always hesitant to judge other people's life experiences just because I don't share that experience. I suspect that the truth is probably somewhere in between: Most people who claim to be "gluten sensitive" are probably (if not exhibiting psychosomatic symptoms) reacting to something other than gluten, but there may indeed be something such as non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. If there is, I haven't heard anything about dosage mattering.

Which I suppose is a really long-winded, roundabout way of saying that I don't think it matters how much gluten there is. Anyone who can eat bread should be able to eat your seitan (hail!).

Anyway, good luck! If it works, I'd be more than willing to try some in the future.

Kevin Kim said...

If this works, I'll be letting everyone know on the blog (with pics), and you're more than welcome to come over for a meal of meatless meat.